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Columbus News

Posted on: July 6, 2023

Changing of the guard: City Parks and Rec becomes its own department under Eckhardt's leadership

Parks (1)

Public Property Director Doug Moore can still remember his humble beginnings with the City of Columbus when he was just a teenager.

“I was picking up garbage in Gerrard Park when it was brand new,” Moore recalled. “I picked up garbage all over for a summer job as a kid.”

In 1979, Moore took on a full-time City staff role as a park maintenance worker and over time ascended through the ranks. Forty-four years later, Moore in his current role, which he has been in since 2007, has been at the helm of nine departments including parks.

But the latter has blossomed into a full-blown parks and recreation department that now not only oversees 19 parks throughout the town but plans, organizes and oversees sports and activities for people of all ages and is responsible for two popular aquatic centers.

“It can be challenging with all the different departments,” Moore said. “Over time we’ve added all these parks. There were no Bradshaw or Centennial parks. That’s probably what I’m most proud of.”

For the last two-and-a-half years, Betsy Eckhardt has worked under Moore by helping lead the team and building out the parks and recreation department’s programs.

To help lighten the public property director’s load and further enhance recreational opportunities in the community, the Columbus City Council recently OK’d a plan to make parks and recreation its own department. As such, Eckhardt has been promoted to parks and recreation director and Moore will remain public property director to oversee his five other departments (cemeteries, Columbus Area Transit, the senior center, Quail Run and Van Berg golf courses).

“The need to split them up has existed for some time. Doug has been the reason we’ve been able to grow all the divisions within public property,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said. “He has taken on many responsibilities, and under his leadership, has grown them to a point now where it makes sense to split them up so we can provide the best services to the community.”

The city administrator said Eckhardt has also really stepped up in her role, which is why City leaders talked with Moore and decided to pursue this plan.

“Betsy has really grown parks and recreation,” Vasicek said. “She has been a huge asset to the City of Columbus.”

Eckhardt, who started with the City in November 2020 as the parks and rec coordinator and was promoted to its manager in May 2022, is appreciative of the opportunity.

“I am very excited,” Eckhardt said. “I am happy they have faith in me to bring the department I’ve been helping build forward.”

Eckhardt credited Moore as someone who has been a great mentor, noting she will continue to ask him questions and take his input.

“Doug has 40-plus years of knowledge of the Columbus parks system that is unmatched. There are things people wouldn’t even begin to know,” Eckhardt said. “It’s so valuable, so having Doug continue to be a mentor is going to be key in keeping parks and recreation successful.”

For his part, Moore said it’s bittersweet not having everyday interaction with parks and recreation activities, but that the timing was right to make the change as he inches closer to retirement.

“It’s difficult losing parks because I’ve always been in parks, but Betsy is very talented,” Moore said. “She has goals and knows what she wants to accomplish with parks and rec. I’m also in the same building and know I’ll talk to Betsy.”

Mayor Jim Bulkley said the timing was perfect to make this adjustment.

“As times change and departments grow, we need to be able to reclassify what responsibilities are and what the scope of work is,” Bulkley said. “It’s always easier when you have a mentor who has been bringing a person along, and we imagine Doug and Betsy will continue to communicate very well together.”

Bulkley credited Moore for all his efforts in parks throughout the years, noting he was instrumental in the development of the Pawnee Plunge, Bradshaw Park and the 18-hole Quail Run Golf Course. The mayor also said he’s confident Eckhardt will continue to thrive and bring exciting recreational opportunities to Columbus.

Vasicek said the change will not require any increased operating expenses for the City, adding she’s thankful to have Moore and Eckhardt on staff.

“They’re both great leaders and very community-minded,” Vasicek said.

Eckhardt said she knows she has big shoes to fill, but reiterated her eagerness to continue building the department for the betterment of the community like Moore did before her.

“I am looking forward to bringing more awareness to our parks and activities in our parks,” Eckhardt said. “I want to keep a vibrant presence in the parks and expand on youth activities and adult programming.”

The public property director has faith in the new parks and recreation director.

“I am confident in Betsy,” he said. “She’ll do a great job.”

(ABOUT THE PHOTO: City Public Property Director Doug Moore, left, and Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Eckhardt enjoy the view atop the Columbus Community Building overlooking Frankfort Square in downtown Columbus.)


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